Search results for "driverless"

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Driving While Robot

What role do architects have in a driverless future?
The rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is inevitable and—depending on who you ask—they’ll either eliminate car crashes and save the environment, or muscle out pedestrians from the street, steal our personal data, and create biblical levels of gridlock in our cities. But despite the divide over how the technology should be implemented, the common thread that runs between apostles and bashers alike is the belief that cities, planners, and architects are woefully unprepared for the changes self-driving cars will bring. In November 2017, the AIA held an event centered on the topic, "Anticipating the Driverless City,” and the furor seems justified following the death of a pedestrian at the grille of an autonomous Uber car. “Planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today,” Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon, said. “Urban planners should be terrified.” Larco’s not wrong. Only a few states even have regulations for driverless cars, let alone ideas for designing a future without parking. With Ford launching self-delivering pizzas in Miami, Google’s Waymo rolling out an autonomous ridesharing service in Arizona, and driverless taxis making inroads in cities all over the world, architects and planners will either need to look ahead or be stuck in triage mode. Sam Schwartz, former New York City Traffic Commissioner from 1982 to 1986 and founder of his eponymous traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm, has categorized the potential futures as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The “good” A utopic self-driving car scenario would have driverless cars constantly circulating and on the prowl for riders, while providing “first mile, last mile” access to and from souped-up mass-transit corridors. If AVs truly take off and replace a sizable portion of manned cars on the street, then parking lots, garages, and driveways—not to mention thousands of square feet of on-street parking per block—would sit vacant. Walking, cycling, and autonomous (electric) buses would feature heavily in a multi-modal transit mix, and streets would narrow as bioswales and strips of public parks replaced parking spots. There has been movement on designing for that future; FXCollaborative, HOK, Arup, KPF, and other prominent firms have all put forward scalable designs for reclaiming the urban fabric. Speculation has already forced public officials in Pittsburgh to put together plans for integrating self-driving cars into the city’s fabric by 2030, and developers in New York are building flexible parking garages that can easily be converted for other uses. However, the key to actually enacting any of these schemes lies in large-scale government intervention. Without a concerted top-down reclamation and conversion of unused streets, AV-centric zoning policies, or renewed investment in mass-transportation options, cities will never be able to integrate AVs into their infrastructure. The largest hurdle to achieving the “good” future isn’t technological, it’s political; even self-driving evangelists have conceded that a laissez-faire approach might result in increased traffic on the road. The “bad” Uber, Lyft, Google, and a raft of competitors are already jostling to bring self-driving taxis to market so that these companies won’t have to pay human drivers. Under the guise of preventing traffic fatalities—there were nearly 40,000 lives lost in the U.S. alone in 2017—the big players are lobbying all levels of government to allow their AVs on the street. If vehicle miles traveled per person in AVs were allowed to increase without intervention, society could slide into an ugly scenario. This dystopic outcome would see mass transit hollowed out by a lack of funding and pedestrians shunted out of the streets in the name of safety. Studies have already shown that existing ridesharing services increase congestion and cause bus services to deteriorate, and if commuters get fed up with slow commutes and turn to ridesharing services, mass transit options could be sent into death spirals due to decreased revenue. Driverless cars are often touted as being spatially efficient, especially as they can join each other to form road trains—tightly packed groups of vehicles moving along optimized routes. But considering how much space on the road 40 bicycles or 40 commuters in a bus would take up, the flaw in that thinking becomes self-evident. Even if artificial intelligence can route traffic more effectively than a human, putting more cars on the road offsets the gains in speed by decreasing the amount of space available. Although computers might be great at coordinating with each other, the external human element will remain a wild card no matter what. Well-planned cities that prioritize walkability and ground-level experience would place pedestrians over passengers, but a worst-case scenario could see cyclists and walkers forced to wear locator beacons so that AVs could “see” them better, while hemmed in behind fencing. The “ugly” The worst driverless car scenarios take Le Corbusier’s famous claim that “the city built for speed is the city built for success” to heart. The high-speed arterial thoroughfares Corbusier envisioned in The Radiant City were realized in the destructive city planning policies of the 1950s and '60s, but municipalities have spent heavily to correct their mistakes 50 years later. Much in the same way that widening roads actually worsens traffic, if planners and architects ignore or give deference to driverless cars and continue to prioritize car culture in their decisions, congestion, gridlock, and withered public transit systems are sure to follow. The adoption of self-driving technology will likely birth new building typologies with unique needs, from centralized hubs where the cars park themselves to AV repair shops. As futurist Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, points out, self-driving cars aren’t a new concept. Their lineage can be directly traced to ideas introduced by GE at the 1939 World’s Fair, but this is the first time that the technology has caught up with the vision. Planners and politicians have had 80 years to grapple with solutions; they can’t afford to take any longer.
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Robots in Disguise

Driverless cars set to roll in California after rule change
Come April 2, California will see fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) hit the streets after the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ruled that the cars don’t need a human in the driver’s seat. First proposed in October, the change means that the 50 companies registered to test self-driving cars in the state could start to ramp up the scale of their projects. The changes come as other states, like Arizona, have seen tech companies ramp up their investments in self-driving cars thanks to a lack regulations. Once the rule takes effect, these vehicles will only need an operator to monitor the car remotely, similar to flying a drone, just in case. Uber, Google’s self-driving car initiative Waymo, General Motors and other big-name players in the industry hailed the move as a major step forward in rolling out AVs on a mass scale. "This is a significant step towards an autonomous future in the state, and signals that California is interested in leading by example in the deployment of autonomous vehicles," Uber spokesperson, Sarah Abboud told The Sacramento Bee. "With this effort complete, we look forward to working with California as it develops regulations applicable to autonomous trucks." Even though it seems as if California is easing off the gas, companies will still be required to report their "disengagements," or human takeovers. While the self-driving cars being tested for mass market production use an array of cameras, radar sensors and satellite data to navigate, the technology isn’t perfect, and most AVs are tested in flat, open landscapes without pedestrians. After April we might see self-driving cars expand their reach onto busy streets or highways, but a full-on integration with manned traffic still seems unlikely. The industry leader in disengagements, Waymo, still reports needing a human takeover about every 5,600 miles, even as the company has announced that it would be launching a driverless ride sharing service in Phoenix, Arizona later this year. Despite the promised safety and environmental benefits that fully autonomous cars would bring (not to mention self-delivering pizzas), consumer advocacy groups have complained that rushing to bring AVs to real streets could endanger lives. Nonprofit organization Consumer Watchdog railed against the decision, releasing a statement accusing the DMV of prioritizing speed over safety. Although advancements in self-driving technology have been promising, the group wrote, “Even if the robot cars were to reach the highest level of perfection (which they are nowhere near, despite what clever marketing might have you believe!), robot cars will co-exist in a world with other humans, who will continue to act in unpredictable, non-robotic ways. Put simply: the robot car world will not be perfect, despite what the technocrats may have you believe.” With more autonomous vehicles set to take up space on public streets, it remains to be seen how well they’ll integrate with our messy, irrational transit system.
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#SCNYC17

Driverless cars, bikes, and the future of urban transportation at Smart Cities NYC
This May 3 to May 6, the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Duggal Greenhouse is hosting the inaugural Smart Cities NYC conference and expo. Smart Cities NYC is ambitious in its scope, with a global selection of speakers whose backgrounds include government, the tech industry, academia, real estate/development, and design. Autonomous vehicles, public health, construction technology, resilient urban landscapes, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are just a few of the subjects being discussed. The Architect's Newspaper is covering the first two days of the conference—stay tuned for another article tomorrow! Transportation was a fixture of the first day's programming. At the "Integrated Urban Mobility" panel, the conversation revolved around how car and bike sharing companies were changing cities and their streetscapes. The panel kicked off with an urban design question: How will cities treat curbside parking now that, with the advent of car sharing, it's less necessary? Now that it's free for other uses, "space along the curb [may soon] be very valuable," said Jay Walder, CEO of bike share company Motivate. However, "one of the most challenging things cities need to do" is to determine how to regulate, share, and maintain these spaces as private care ownership disappears. While parking may be a relative afterthought for architects, it was a critical part of the transportation future for the panelists. Aaron Landry, general manager of car2go North America (a car-sharing service), explained how his company minimizes how long its cars occupy curbside space. By predicting and optimizing where car pickups and dropoffs happen, car2go's vehicles are rarely parked for long. Developers are also fighting parking requirements in new developments, instead opting to provide residents with transit subsidies or dedicated car share pickup/dropoff/storage points. Without parking requirements, developers can allot less valuable land to unproductive hardtop. The gradual elimination of parking also led to another major question: If parking meters, registration fees, tolls, and other related taxes disappear with car ownership, how will cities fund road maintenance? "We should absolutely have road pricing," said Walder, referencing tech-driven systems that track where and when individuals drive. Members of this panel, as well as later ones, agreed that such a system would be essential to funding road infrastructure in the future. The panel also tackled how bike and car shares fit into a city's larger transportation system. "We don't compete with the transit system," said Walder, "we're part of it." He stated that 40 percent of Citibike trips start and end near public transit. Similarly, Dan Curtin, vice president of Zipcar's Fleet and Supply Chain, said that private car ownership—not public transport—was Zipcar's primary adversary. In fact, he described how Zipcar customers use more public transit services once they give up their cars. (At a later panel, Michael Masserman, senior director of Federal & International Government Relations at Lyft, said that certain cities subsidize commuters to take Lyft to and from public transport, solving "last mile/first mile" challenges. Masserman also said car ride sharing services like Lyft could replace inefficient bus routes, such as those that run late at night and carry few customers.) Lastly, in cities everywhere "patterns of travel are more fundamentally complex than before," declared Walder. Greg Lindsay, the panel's moderator and Senior Fellow of the New Cities Foundation's Connected Mobility Initiative, pointed to apps like Portland's TriMet that consolidate various "subscriptions" of private and public transit in a single place. In theory, this would let commuters move fluidly between transportation options. Kristof Vereenooghe, CEO of EV-Box, a company that supplies electric charging stations and related services, added that such apps are already common in Europe. Overall, the panel seemed optimistic these changes would steadily snowball into a full transportation revolution. People are realizing the value of short commutes and, in a future of shared commuting, the financially vulnerable can also be freed from the monetary burdens of car ownership. Add developers into the mix of transportation-savvy urbanites, and there's a strong driving force for change. The "Transforming Transportation" panel dealt with a related topic: driverless cars. Dan Galves, chief communications officer at vision-based driver assistance systems company Mobileye, started the panel by saying fully driveless, autonomous, mass-produced cars could be here by 2024 to 2025. As compared to the previous panel, this one was even more bullish on the future: "All this technology is leading to seamless intermodal transportation—faster, safer, more tailored," said Scott Corwin, managing director of Deloitte Consulting's Future of Mobility Leader initiative. And as with a similar panel at another recent transportation conference, the consensus was that networks of shared, driverless, electric vehicles would be the ideal future scenario. But before we get there, the panel agreed that cities would act as crucial testbeds, using their varying and unique layouts to expose weaknesses in autonomous driving systems. One "tremendously huge challenge" does remain, said John Moavenzadeh, head of Mobility Industries and System Initiative at the World Economic Forum. Each city and country has its own "culture" for how to pay for its roads. A road pricing system (also a subject in the previous panel) will be a challenge to create. Corwin helped conclude the panel on a forceful note, saying we "need creative, digitally-based, sustainable, equitable solutions," because there will be no more 2nd Ave. Subways or Robert Moses to fix transportation challenges the old way. Want more technology news for the architecture, engineering, and construction industries? Don't miss The Architect's Newspaper's Tech+ expo, coming to New York City this May 23!
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Driving School

Driverless vehicle testing facility breaks ground in Michigan
The American Center for Mobility, a non-profit product development and testing facility, has broken ground on a new driverless vehicle testing site in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The 335-acre mock town and highway facility is being built at the former World War II Willow Run bomber factory. The $80-million facility is planned to open in December 2017 and will be made available for private, government, and academic use. The site was picked because it already includes many structures and roadways that will aid in the testing, including wide-lane road and overpasses. When completed, the final campus will include multiple driving situations and settings including areas designated as residential, rural, urban, commercial, off-road, and high speed. The mission of the facility will be to test vehicle safety in a controlled, yet realistic, environment, as well as research mobility technologies. “This is the start of a new era at a site incredibly rich with history,” said John Maddox, president and CEO of the American Center for Mobility. “While there are many well-known transportation and manufacturing innovations at this site, the first use of this property was as a teaching orchard developed by Henry Ford. We’re planting an apple tree here today to honor the heritage and continue the tradition of innovation, education, and good stewardship.” The Willow Run complex was originally built in 1941 by the Ford Motor Company to produce components for the Douglas Aircraft B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. In less than a year, the plant began producing and assembling the entire aircraft. By 1945, when production seized, Willow Run had produced nearly half of the Liberators for the war effort. Along with the plant, an airport was built so the planes could take off immediately after production. After the war, the airport was transferred to civilian use and the plant was bought and sold multiple times. The last owner and operator of the plant was Ford’s rival General Motors. The American Center for Mobility is a joint initiative between the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the University of Michigan, the Business Leaders for Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK.
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Tallinn Architecture Biennale re-imagines the capital of Estonia as a driverless city
As part of the city's unofficial bid to become the European Green Capital of 2018, Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is re-imagining its layout in the Tallinn Architecture Biennale. https://vimeo.com/130414866 Home to nearly half a million people, the eastern European city asked architects and planners to imagine how the implementation of driverless cars could change public space among the cityscape as it strives to become a more people-friendly urban space. The focal point of the competition was the Viru intersection, located in the city center. According to Euronews, the intersection has been "remodeled, destroyed and rebuilt several times over the past century." A firm believer in sustainability, architect and urban planner Marten Kaevats spoke to Euronews about his thoughts on driverless cars and the city. “Self-driving cars means something like 10 times less cars in cities, which is quite radical, no congestion. When self-driving mobility comes, this means if there are 10 times less cars and cars use the same space a lot more efficiently than cars do now, what do we do with the (remaining) space? Because there will be too much of it. And now architects and landscape architects need to start being creative and have a new tool set.” Kaevats is the main curator of this third edition of the Tallinn Architecture Biennale. The winners of the competition were Enhanced Urban Movement, formed by Clement Lobbens and Frederique Barchelard. Otto Alver, the competition's curator said, “They are solving all of the problems we have concerning buildings around this area, dealing with cars, dealing with people on the square itself. They are actually bringing something new to Tallinn.” In its statement, Enhanced Urban Movement' said: "Our aim is not to reduce the number of cars or to predict the future of driverless cars but to promote a very strong public space compatible with several mobility systems. Relying on the existing values, the project is based on three strategic points: – To define a clear outline and a unique design solution for the ground that would absorb the present facilities, comply with a new landscape, and also reflect a symbolic value as a public space of identity; – To divide the square into clearly identified but strongly interrelated public space sequences emphasizing and articulating its present character and qualities; – To contour and define the new building spaces in relation to Viru Square. The new constructions outline the public space and readdress the existing buildings and spaces on the main square." The Tallinn Architecture Biennale runs until October 11.
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This fake town by the University of Michigan to become testing ground for developing smarter driverless cars
Researchers the University of Michigan just one-upped a recent virtual SimCity project for testing smart technologies of future cities. A tangible, 32-acre testing ground for driverless cars called MCity pits autonomous vehicles against every conceivable real-life obstacle, minus the caprice of human drivers. The uninhabited town in the university's North Campus Research Complex contains suburban and city roadways, building facades, sidewalks, bike lanes and streetlights. Recreating street conditions in a controlled environment means teaching robotic vehicles to interpret graffiti-defaced road signs, faded line markings, construction obstacles and other quotidian surprises which AI is still ill-equipped to handle. By dint of moveable facades, researchers can create any condition—from blind corners to odd intersections—to develop more conscientious self-driving vehicles. Vehicles will navigate city terrain from dirt to paving brick and gravel roads, decode freeway signs, and make split-second braking and lane-change decisions in a High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane at peak hours. "We believe that this transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game changer for safety, for efficiency, for energy, and for accessibility," said Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Mobility Transformation Center. "Our cities will be much better to live in, our suburbs will be much better to live in. These technologies truly open the door to 21st century mobility." MCity is the first major project of a part governmental, academic, and commercial partnership called the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center. The initiative is backed by million-dollar investments from companies like Toyota, Nissan, Ford, GM, Honda, State Farm, Verizon, and Xerox, who will no doubt be affected should driverless cars go mainstream. The testing center is is also tinkering with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) connectivity to investigate whether it aids individual vehicles in making better decisions. The university aims to eventually deploy 9,000 connected vehicles across the greater Ann Arbor area.
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Sleeper Car

Self-driving homes could be the future of affordable housing
The convergence of new technologies including artificial intelligence, the internet of things, electric cars, and drone delivery systems suggests an unlikely solution to the growing housing crisis. In the next few years, we may use an app on our smartphones to notify our houses to pick us up or drop us off. Honda recently announced the IeMobi Concept. It is an autonomous mobile living room that attaches and detaches from your home. When parked, the vehicle becomes a 50-square-foot living or workspace. Mercedes-Benz Vans rolled out an all-electric digitally-connected van with fully integrated cargo space and drone delivery capability, and Volvo just unveiled its 360c concept vehicle that serves as either a living room or mobile office. In other cases, some folks are simply retrofitting existing vehicles. One couple in Oxford England successfully converted a Mercedes Sprinter van into a micro-home that includes 153 square feet of living space, a complete kitchen, a sink, a fridge, a four-person dining area, and hidden storage spaces. For those who are either unwilling or unable to own a home, self-driving van houses could become a convenient and affordable solution.  Soon, our mobile driverless vehicles may allow us to work from our cars and have our laundry and a hot meal delivered at the same time. In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated that 15,000 people are already living in their cars and in most countries it is perfectly legal to live in your vehicle. The consequences of autonomous home living are far-reaching. It could radically reduce carbon footprints and living expenses by combining all transportation and housing needs in one space.  The new need for overnight parking creates new economic and social opportunities. New types of pop-up communities will emerge with charging stations, retail stores, laundry facilities, restaurants, and social spaces. The freedom of a van-home lifestyle suggests new modes of living which include more leisure time and less time tethered to a job. The impact on cities, economies, infrastructures, inter-city travel, and the way we live and organize ourselves are immeasurable and scarcely completely imagined. As Volvo says “Why fly when you can be driven?” Soon you may be able to avoid airport lines and delays. You will be able to arrive at your destination rested and refreshed after being driven overnight in your personal portable bedroom.
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Drive Up, Not Thru

Boeing to sell flying taxis
Aerospace company Boeing aims to begin selling electric people-carrying drones within the next ten years. “I think it will happen faster than any of us understand,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg told Bloomberg. “Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable.”
Boeing's announcement is the latest in an explosion of news—and corresponding excitement—around driverless cars and other forms of transportation previously found only in science fiction. On April 2, fully autonomous vehicles can hit the streets in California, while truck company Peterbilt is pioneering technology for self-driving big rigs. Las Vegas, meanwhile, is testing a self-driving public transit shuttle, while further west, Uber and NASA are teaming up to bring flying cars to Los Angeles. And let's not forget about the Hyperloop: Elon Musk has received exploratory permits for a New York to D.C. route for the ultra-fast conveyance he's developed, and this week, Virgin Hyperloop One debuted its first pod prototype in Dubai.
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Pod Challenge

Virgin Hyperloop One debuts prototype travel pods in Dubai
What if you could cut the travel time between two cities from a an hour's drive to less than 15 minutes? That's Virgin Hyperloop One's plan for a high-tech, high-speed autonomous transportation system that could one day link Abu Dhabi and Dubai. And now, with the unveiling of a prototype design for the pods that will carry commuters at nearly the speed of sound through low-pressure tubes using magnetic levitation, the plan is inching closer to reality. The first hyperloop pod prototype, created by Virgin Hyperloop One in conjunction with Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), debuted last week as part of UAE Innovation Month, and it gives travelers the first sense of what a trip on the future 'loop might really look like. And, no surprise given that Richard Branson is a major investor, the vibe is very Virgin: sleek, modern, and bathed in moody colored light. The dream of hyperloop transportation has been one of tech's most hyped ideas since Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk proposed the idea with a white paper back in 2013. While the billionaire entrepreneur is not involved with this particular project, Virgin Hyperloop One has big plans of its own for the developing technology, including other on-demand travel networks linking Los Angeles to Las Vegas and Mumbai to Pune. Along with its high speed, the hyperloop is contained underground and completely autonomous, which may be a major factor in reaching the RTA's goal of making as many as 25 percent of travel in Dubai driverless by 2030. The Dubai-Abu Dhabi hyperloop is expected to one day transport up to 10,000 people per hour between the two Emirati hubs, which are located about 75 miles apart, when it opens to the public, which could be as early as 2020. The Emirati hyperloop will be anchored by a B.I.G.–designed transport hub, making it clear that even when you take time out of the travel equation, things can still still look mighty futuristic.
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Robots in Disguise

How will autonomous vehicles change the way architects think about cities?
City planning operates on decades-long cycles, while infrastructure is typically built out using forecasts that extend current trends. If self-driving vehicles are poised to deliver the revolution in urban transportation that Silicon Valley has been promising, how should urban infrastructure accommodate them? With less parking spots needed, how can designers effectively reclaim this urban space? Anticipating the Driverless City, a recent conference hosted by the AIA New York (AIANY), brought together Uber executives, planners, architects, and policymakers in pursuit of a holistic approach to adapting to life with autonomous vehicles. Speakers acknowledged the same general themes over and over again, despite their differing backgrounds. With self-driving cars possibly arriving in New York City by early 2018 and real-world tests already happening in other cities, one of the most discussed topics was the need to plan for an autonomous future as soon as possible. Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative, stressed that "planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today. Urban planners should be terrified." Autonomous vehicles will touch on every facet of urban life, from water management through the reduction of impermeable roads, to electrical grid infrastructure, and drastically reshape the economy. Larco, and many others throughout the event spoke of the need for government to begin working with planners and policymakers to redesign cities from the ground-up. Leaning on a "people, places, policy" framework is a good starting point, as architects and planners can strategize about how autonomous vehicles could possibly affect each of the three. Sam Schwartz, former NYC Traffic Commissioner and founder of transit planning firm Sam Schwartz Engineering, described how a future society with self-driving cars could tilt towards "good," "bad," or "ugly" outcomes. The ideal scenario would be one where the use of autonomous vehicles has encouraged mass transportation use, acting to move commuters to and from high-capacity transit corridors. Because self-driving cars can pack tighter and don’t need to park, streets would be narrowed and the extra space converted to public parkland. Conversely, in a world where autonomous vehicles are owned only by individuals, pedestrians might be walled off from the street, and our roads might be more packed than ever. According to Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, the way we think about self-driving cars directly stems from concepts first presented at the 1939 World’s Fair. Nearly 80 years later, architects and planners wanting to design for a future with self-driving cars, busses, and trains, will need to go beyond simply extending our current car culture.
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Fact & Fiction

Architects who democratize technology through speculation

Liam Young calls himself an “architectural storyteller.” He uses fiction and film to explore visions of the future that amplify trends and technologies already present, challenging viewers to confront a not-so-distant reality. Young, who often collaborates with science fiction writers, technologists, and urbanists, casts a wide net: In addition to his London-based think tank Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today (cofounded with urbanist Darryl Chen), he helps run Unknown Fields Division, a roving global research studio that scours little-explored parts of the world for hints of future technologies and alternative narratives, and helms SCI-Arc’s Master of Arts in Fiction and Entertainment program. AN asked Young about his practice, his recent films, and the power of storytelling.

The Architect’s Newspaper: Let’s start by talking about Tomorrow’s Storeys, the film you produced for the Documenta exhibition in Athens this year.

Liam Young: Basically, the setup is that the evolution of Airbnb and other smart city systems has created a condition where ownership as we know it has been totally rewritten and we now just lease a full area or volume. It’s an animated film where you drift through a building, eavesdropping on conversations that were written as part of a public futurist think tank. The Athens apartment blocks [in the film] are based on the dominant building form in Athens, this housing block that’s almost conceived like Corbusier’s Dom-Ino: a concrete frame with flat slabs that are infilled across time. The film imagines a fleet of builder bots that remake, demolish, and build partition spaces and volumes as they are required. So you no longer own a piece of property, you just own volume—but that volume might shift or reform itself at any time as needed. So cities are remade based on networking technology.

And what’s the premise of your film that’s premiering at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism?

It is an abstract, non-narrative sequence of vignettes, fragments, and moments of a future Seoul, a city in which all of the hopes and dreams, fears and wonders of emerging technologies have come true. Scenes of contemporary Seoul are overlaid with seamless visual effects depicting a world where the sky is filled with drones, cars are driverless, the street is draped in augmented reality, and everyone is connected to everything. It is narrated by the disembodied voice of the city’s operating system, who tells us its story and how it produces and manages the environments we will soon all occupy.

Right now, it seems like tech companies are really driving the development of smart cities like the ones you depict. But what role do—or should—architects play?

The issue is that, for the most part, these technologies have supplanted the traditional forces that define and shape cities. The [digital] network is now a more significant infrastructure for affecting change within a city than physical public space or traditional infrastructures like road networks and water grids. So the role of architects and urbanists is rapidly diminishing. We’re interested in exploring where new forms of agency for the architect might exist when so much of what defines cities is being outsourced to large-scale tech companies.

The role of the storyteller is certainly one that I’ve kind of fashioned myself around. However, I think it goes deeper. I’m looking at [technologies that] have evolved faster than our cultural capacity to understand what they mean or what they might do. In that sense, it’s really important to imagine the implications of these technologies before they’re actually implemented. We try to explore the role of the architect as a speculator, as someone who can prototype those implications in visual and spatial mediums.

Take something like driverless car technology. A number of architecture studios are asking, “What happens to a city when the driverless car comes into being?” The problem is that car companies have already spent billions and billions of dollars developing this technology. They’ve invested so much in it that this future is going to happen whether we want it or not. [Architects] should have been running these design studios, we should have been involved in the planning meetings of Ford and General Motors ten years ago, but we weren’t. For the most part we sat by idly waiting for it to happen. If we were in those rooms $15 billion ago, we actually might have been able to make a difference in the way that these car companies are thinking.

I think that’s one of the urgent projects of our current generation of designers: To tackle imminent tech, play it out in multiple scenarios that explore desired consequences as well as unintended consequences, then feed those stories back to a general public and to the tech companies that are developing them so that we can make more informed choices about the future we want to have.

What about the traditional role of architects, even in just advocating for housing or basic infrastructure?

I don’t think the necessity for architects, as we traditionally define ourselves, is going to cease to exist. There are still going to be architects designing houses and talking about space as service infrastructure, but the role of those architects is going to fundamentally change or it’s going to rapidly diminish. I’m not advocating for the total dissolution of traditional architecture; I can’t claim that every architect should be a storyteller, but some of us need to do that in more systematic ways than we currently do.

Your film Where the City Can’t See presented a way for people to use technology to fight back—become hackers. Smart city technology is usually very top-down: even when tech companies are supposedly giving you choices, those choices inevitably benefit their business model.

That’s essentially what we are focusing on at the moment: the way that technology generates new forms of subculture. These technologies become the most interesting when they’re no longer in the hands of the companies that developed them, but when they get democratized and people start inventing their own uses for things, and we start seeing the unintended consequences of these technologies. That’s when they become really exciting.

[Another] big part of our practice is talking about the consequences of smart technologies. In order for everyone in a first-world city like New York to be running around on the latest smartphone, a whole lot of kids in Africa are going down the bottom of a mine with a gun to their head to dig out rare-earth minerals needed to make that smartphone. It’s no longer sufficient to describe those contexts as being pre-technology or pre-urban, because they’re part of an urban system, they’re part of the supply chain that produces the smart city.

So the people on the other end of the fiber-optic cable, they don’t have the latest smartphone, they’re not hooked into Nest adjusting the thermostat in their homes or uploading their data to the cloud, but they’re a consequence of the system that generates all those things for us in New York. We’re trying to tell these different kinds of stories, which all are part of the smart city—just not the smart city where we choose to point the marketing lens.

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Road To Automation

A Michigan facility is the nation’s epicenter for testing self-driving cars

The race is on to develop connected and automated vehicles (CAV) that are viable and affordable. The road to this goal is not a simple one, though. While Silicon Valley is working on the software side of the challenge, the U.S. government is looking back to the place where it all began: Michigan. Specifically, Willow Run in Ypsilanti Township.

Willow Run was a B-52 manufacturing plant during World War II. Today, the site is in the middle of a transition that will make it the epicenter of automated-vehicle research. Willow Run is now home to the American Center for Mobility (ACM), and it has been designated as the first national CAV proving grounds by the Department of Transportation.

At over 500 acres, the center includes a variety of environments designed to simulate real-world situations. These include a 2.5-mile highway loop, a 700-foot-long curved tunnel, two double overpasses, and multiple intersections and roundabouts. Matched with Michigan’s varied and sometimes extreme weather, the center provides everything needed to put new autonomous testing technologies through their paces.

The first task of the facility will be to help establish voluntary standards for CAVs, infrastructure, and autonomous technologies. Along with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and SAE International, the center will work to identify the most immediately needed guidelines for safe automated transportation. The center is also working with the University of Michigan’s Mcity, a smaller research facility with its own proving ground. Mcity’s position within the greater university allows researchers access to the school’s engineers, public policy experts, and law, business, social sciences, and urban planning faculty.

As a public-private partnership, the center is also working with companies like Toyota and AT&T. Toyota, which already does automated research at Mcity, recently invested $5 million into the center. AT&T is providing a dedicated LTE cellular network needed for the communication side of the CAV equation.

“As we move forward with the development of autonomous cars, we must remember that not all test miles are created equal,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute, at the announcement of the Toyota-ACM collaboration. “The road to creating a car as safe, or safer, than a human driver will require billions of test miles including simulation, real-world driving on public roads, and closed-course testing where we can expose our systems to extreme circumstances and conditions. The new ACM closed-course facility is a significant step forward in this journey and will accelerate our ability to help prevent crashes and save lives.”

According to the World Economic Forum, 10 percent of vehicles in the U.S. will be driverless by 2026. Before that can happen, new hardware and software will have to be developed to overcome issues of trust, cost, efficiency, and safety. The U.S. government is counting on Michigan’s automotive brain trust to solve these issues and move the country back into the lead position in the automotive industry.